Delon to receive Cannes tribute award

Honorary Palme d’Or for acting legend

by Richard Mowe

Portrait of Alain Delon at 83. He first became noticed in René Clément’s Plein Soleil
Portrait of Alain Delon at 83. He first became noticed in René Clément’s Plein Soleil Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

French super-star Alain Delon, who earned a reputation for playing a series of “tough guys” over the decades - often in tandem with a contemporary Jean-Paul Belmondo, twin pillars of the post-war French film industry - will receive an honorary Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The 83-year-old, whose father, also Alain, was a celebrated actor and singer as well as being a producer, follows in the wake of Jeanne Moreau, Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jane Fonda, Clint Eastwood, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Manoel de Oliveira, Agnès Varda and Jean-Pierre Léaud, in receiving the honour.

Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux said that Delon had hesitated a long time before accepting the idea of coming to the Festival to receive the tribute. He added: “He had long been reluctant to accept this Palme d'or because he thought he should only come to Cannes to celebrate the directors he had been working with."

Over the course of his marathon career, Delon has made more than 80 films - both arthouse and commercial. He first became noticed in René Clément’s Purple Noon/Plein Soleil, in 1960 at the age of 25, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley.

Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï
Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï Photo: Unifrance
Frémaux has described Delon as “a living legend and a local icon” who is much appreciated in Japan where he is nicknamed “Spring Samurai”. One of his most memorable roles was in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï as a monastic hired assassin and continued his work with the same director in Le Cercle Rouge. He was worked with many of the international directorial greats among them Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni and Luchino Visconti. He appeared in front of the camera and as a producer on Alain Cavalier’s The Unvanquished, shown at last year’s French Film Festival UK. He has directed two crime thrillers The Fighter and For a Cop’s Hide.

He has been in Cannes many times over the years, notably for Visconti’s The Leopard in 1963 although previously he has admitted an uneasy relationship with the Festival. He has been supportive of the restoration of many of his films which have been shown in the Cannes Classics section. His son Anthony with his first wife Nathalie, has followed in his father’s footsteps as an actor and has had a similarly chequered personal and professional life. Delon divorced her in 1968 when he met actress Mireille Darc. Delon also was involved with Romy Schneider with whom he co-starred in the film Christine in 1958 and with whom he went on to make Jacques Deray’s La Piscine.

Delon said as far back as 1998 that his acting days are over. But he admits one regret. "There is one thing I've missed out on that will always haunt me: I would have liked to have been directed by a woman before I die."

The Festival, which launches its programme later today, runs from 14 to 25 May.

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